Last month I wrote about Chi.mp and spread the love with a few beta invites. I received quite a lot of feedback from people so thought the best way to deal with it was to pose the questions to someone who knows a bit more about it than I do!
Rob Farrow, VP of Marketing and Global Brand Development at chi.mp, kindly agreed to answer my questions. Rob’s been at chi.mp for the last 18 months and is responsible for all aspects of the chi.mp brand, building community and establishing strategies. Before chi.mp Rob was creative director for a “boutique marketing agency.”
Paul Seys: There seems to be a fair bit of interest in chi.mp at the moment, could you just explain very briefly what Chi.mp is so that people who haven’t come across it before kind of know what its about?
Rob Farrow: Chi.mp is a platform that allows you to create your personal social hub on a domain that you own and control. It is about you being able to create, share, connect and collect all the elements that define who you are online. Think of it as your personal portal to “you” on the web.
PS: So where abouts is the chi.mp team based?
RF: Out team is split between Honolulu Hawaii (HQ) and Solana Beach California.
PS: The growth in social media is far from slowing down, in fact services appear to be starting up almost daily. What are the USPs that help differentiate chi.mp from the likes of Tumblr for example?
RF: The single most obvious differentiator with ch.mp over any other service is the domain. We not only provide our owners with a very robust platform we give them their own personal domain (for free) that they own and control. Unlike many of the other social sites out there that make you a subset of their domains and own all the content/contacts within your account, chi.mp has taken a different approach and put the ownership and control back in the hands of the site owners.
PS: I mention Tumblr as it was the first service that came to mind that appears similar to chi.mp, do you class the likes of Tumblr and Friendfeed as competitors? If not who do you consider to be your main competition?
RF: We really have no “direct” competitors for chi.mp since the vision and service offerings are larger than anyone company currently out there. We are always in competition with a variety of services for the attention and loyalties of our owners, this is the driving force behind the desire to create a better product every day. One of the biggest potential “threats” that we see on the horizon is the introduction of new TLD’s into the market place by ICANN sometime late next year. That threat also makes the assumption that of the limited amount of domains released someone will enter the social space with one.
PS: At the moment you’re in beta, how many people do you have using it?
RF: Several thousand.
PS: Whats the response been like so far to the beta release?
RF: So far very positive, our philosophy towards owner rights has been extremely well received. We have had some great input on how we can improve our service offerings, our interface and our descriptions of services.
PS: All the services you’re aggregating, whether its Facebook, Twitter or Flickr all have their own unique audience and more importantly characteristics. What has been the hardest aspect of bringing these together?
RF: The technical challenges and resource demands to integrate them have been the most challenging to date…for specifics our tech team could better help you there.
PS: Recently you released version 1.9 which added lots more functionality including the ability to add ‘Personas’. Usually, from a user experience point of view, with added functionality comes added challenges. What do you think have been the biggest UX challenges you’ve had to face?
RF: The biggest challenges have come in the form of communication more specifically how do we communicate all the features to our owners in a clear and concise manner, engage them and at the same time not bog them down. Its a challenge to determine at what point something becomes intuitive or confusing.
PS: Chi.mp has a very distinctive design. Although a slightly different proposition, services like iGoogle start off as very visually neutral, what was the thinking behind creating such a distinctive design?
RF: We were a different kind of company from the start. We had different values, services and opportunities for our owners… the design was the cumulative process of input from our initial alpha testers and our design team.
PS: Looking at the chi.mp team there doesn’t appear to be one sole person responsible for the user experience, however you seem to have a strong community helping you. How big a part have UX processes played in the development so far, and what research methods do you employ to help affect change?
RF: So far we have used lots of testing, aggressively engaged our community for their input and have worked with a design team as opposed to a designer. It was important to have a continuity in design extending from marketing and brand experience all the way through the UX.
PS: Apart from the option to purchase you .mp domain are there other plans to monetise chi.mp?
RF: Yes…we have several domain centric and service centric models qued up. NONE will affect the current ownership arrangement (free base service) and NONE involve scraping our owners content or contacts.
PS: Thanks a lot for taking the time out to answer my questions, its really appreciated. Just one last question to finish, what are the long term plans for chi.mp?
RF: Grow and become as socially relevant for our owners so that we can provide them with long lasting, relevant value.